The Mandate and The Media

image2Let me begin by craving your indulgence this morning to broach the subject of the abominable god of the Canaanites, Baal. I do realize I’m in the presence of men of God but I mean no offence. I need to draw an analogy from this toxic god for the subject of our discussion.

Baal has always been an important god in the pantheon of false deities. He keeps reinventing himself, franchising himself down the timelines of civilization.

The worship of Baal was not only popular in Egypt from the later New Kingdom (i.e about 1400 BC to 1075 BC); but also through the influence of the Arameans he entered the Greek pantheon as Belos, a god identified with Zeus. (He constantly used a strategy of brand association to remain relevant). He was also in the Carthaginian pantheon in 5th century BC, as well as the Roman pantheon through association with Saturn. He even appears in the Koran. His notoriety was cemented about 9th century BC through the most infamous of women in human history, Jezebel.

Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that knowledge of Baal’s personality derives chiefly from a number of tablets uncovered from 1929 onward at Ugarit. (Ugarit is Ras Shamra in modern day Syria). These tablets date back to the middle of the 2nd millennium. But the Bible as a historical document says otherwise.

The incidence of the religious atrocity committed by Gideon Joash when he nicodemously destroyed the altar of Baal in the middle of the night lets us into the restrictive features of this god. The incidence is recorded in Judges chapter 6.

When the worshippers of Baal turned out to exact a revenge on the young man for the disrespect and sacrilege, his father rose up in his defense challenging Baal to fight for himself. Of course the old man knew the Baal statue couldn’t fight. Neither could it talk, nor hear, nor move. In essence, he characterized Baal as a deaf and dumb god.

Today, we have the technological equivalence of Baal in the television set. It’s why communication professionals refer to it as a dumb medium. It is afterall a one-way communication medium, though some will argue it can speak. The truth however is, it’s more of a regurgitator than a speaker. It can’t see, it can’t hear and it has no feedback system, just like Baal. Our Lord and Saviour wouldn’t have totally depended on it because he values feedback. “Whom do men say that I am?” he once famously asked. Feedback!

The television medium as we ordinarily know it is powerful but it is slipping into generational irrelevance. This is largely due to the convergence of technological platforms on the phone.

But the TV is the aspirational medium of men of God. It is not just a broadcaster of ministry to households, it is an excellent PR tool. It gives leverage to a ministry.

We must however put on the revelatory and analytical cap of the Sons of Issachar. If we don’t, we risk being left on the platform of time as the train of technology culture departs. And we risk cutting off a whole generation from the gospel. It has always been God’s desire that the older generation become genealogical staple pins, binding the next generation to God’s theological and ideological reasoning.

A new culture is being created through technological convergence and the Church is clearly lagging in that cultural sphere.

In the days of our Lord Jesus Christ, the chief technology of information transmission was the human transmitter. His fame was noised abroad, the Bible says. And he sent the Twelve out, and then the Seventy. The only other information technology available was print. The Lord read Isaiah 61 in the synagogue. But the Lord depended more on viral transmission through the agency of man.

Many ministries have not moved beyond the media used by our Lord Jesus Christ in his days on earth. They depend on human transmitters – congregants and missionaries – for transmission. These are expected to give a firsthand account of preaching and ministerial activities. The system is so inefficient and TV is so expensive. Radio is cheaper but it is blind. Of course there are tapes, books and CDs but they are dumb technological platforms – non-interactive.

The single most powerful technological platform today is the mobile phone. It is a convergence of radio, TV, newspaper, social media, broadcast equipment, community hub and the Bible. It is a movie theatre, studio, diagnostic tool, internet platform, remote control, games arcade, publisher, bookshop and more. It is able to combine these functions because of applications. These applications open up wonderful vistas of ministerial opportunity, if we know what to do. And the mobile phone is cheap and ubiquitous. No 21st century ministry can afford not to take advantage of the mobile phone.

If we must reach our youths (ages 15-35), we must be social media literate and social media savvy. We must go where they are. The youths are on the internet, 24/7!

Now, these youths have developed a culture, and it’s a culture of irreverence. This is because of successive assaults on their hope and future. They question authority, boldly, be it governmental authority, parental authority or ecclesiastical authority. They want to have a say in the running of the affairs of their nation. They are not into traditional media. They hardly watch TV except for talent, football and music shows. They won’t be caught dead watching the 9 o’clock news or most of Christian programming on Nigerian TV.

They congregate online, collaborate online, mobilize online, date online, joke online, share online, meet online, work online… They have redefined sociology and the concept of community. Twitter is very important to them. As is Facebook. Is it not surprising that the typing structure of Twitter – 140 characters per message – is about the average length of a verse of scripture? Perhaps God would have twitted the scriptures to the writers of the Bible were he compiling the scriptures today!

The good thing about social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook is that they accord with the feedback principle of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike the TV, they allow for two-way communication in real time and afford us statistical feedback. No minister in Nigeria can say with exactitude how many people he’s reaching through TV broadcast. All we have are approximations of potential audience, not actual audience count.

The emergent new media landscape is a tool of precision for the measurement of the effectiveness of ministry. Ministries must evolve a combined media strategy to engage effectively. Perhaps, we need Social Media Pastors; this apart from the offline ministers who minister in churches on Sundays. These social media pastors, or Twitter pastors if you like, will minister to Twitter congregations throughout the week. They’ll upload sermons daily and attend to problems and challenges, just like MTN and Airtel customer service Twitter platforms.

Social media expands the reach and ministry of a man of God exponentially. A pastor of a five hundred strong church can potentially reach over a hundred thousand people every Sunday. And it costs next to nothing!

Joyce Meyer has 1,733,522 followers on Twitter and 3,497,585 on Facebook. Joel Osteen has 1,343,418 on Twitter and 2,932,001 on Facebook. Bishop TD Jakes has 841,305 on Twitter and 34,509 on Facebook. Pastor Adeboye has 46,723 on Twitter and 1,014,877 on Facebook. No ministry on earth can accommodate such huge numbers in physical locations. Space expansion relative to ministry expansion becomes very inefficient and unaffordable after a certain point.

Now I am aware that internet penetration in Nigeria is not a well rounded figure. There are different penetration scenarios for different localities. In places where there is low internet penetration, my key message in this regard is the maximization of whatever technological platforms are available, human and non-human; as well as generational connectedness. We must be early adopters of new technology. We were late to television.

The second thing I am aware of is that a number of ministers at the forefront of the Pentecostal movement are getting older. Most are in their 50s, many way beyond. This presents a huge challenge to the Church. Some are unfamiliar with the emergent culture and some are clearly technologically challenged. To make matters worse, the social landscape is so changed that acceptable ministerial practices of old have come under sharp and unrelenting condemnation and scrutiny. Ministerial misdemeanors can go round the world and come back in less than five minutes. Such is the new technological culture.

The Church of Jesus Christ is under assault. And the assault is coming from the unlikeliest of places – spaces that didn’t even exist when the fathers of the Church began their ministries.

Eminent church personages are being assaulted and we have dastardly terrorist attacks on our beloved and courageous brethren in the North. A grand siege is laid on their fundamental human rights: their right to worship, their right to freedom of association, freedom of expression, right to life, and right to safety and security.

The same media used as platform for virulent attacks on Church personages and ministries is also what is being used to make the plight of our brethren known to the world. The Church must master media and public relations.

We may feel pressured from all the media scrutiny and all the brouhaha but all of that gives the Church invaluable feedback on its public perception. The following are glaringly clear:

  1. The world does not understand the dispensation of the priest-king. We assume they do! As far as the world is concerned, you’re either priest or king. No hyphen.
  1. The world believes pastors must swear an oath of allegiance to poverty; that that is true service. ‘As poor as a church rat’ still holds true in many people’s mentality.
  1. The world believes the pastor is a servant – in the context of master/servant relationship. As a servant he can be dictated to, especially by powerful figures. But Pentecostal churches are mostly entrepreneurial in conception. This creates a conceptual problem for the world.
  1. The world does not understand the economic model of the Church. It keeps referencing the Islamic model not knowing the Church runs a commonwealth structure.
  1. The world does not understand the principle of sowing and reaping as majored by Pentecostal ministries. How can you take money from the poor they wonder! Sounds callous!
  1. The world has no cognitive understanding of the enormous social impact of the Church in Nigeria, even though the Church is effectively Nigeria’s social security system.
  1. The governmental structure of Church finance is not very clear or understood. To whom belong donations and offerings for example? The public trust, the church or pastor?

We have not been public facing. We’ve been doing our thing, our own way, believing we’re immune to the pressures of public relations. The events in the last few months have proved otherwise.

Pastors are no longer judged on moral standards alone. They’re now judged on social standards. Ministries are judged on social relevance: How caring is your ministry? Are you on the side of the people? What are you doing about youth concerns? What are you doing about poverty alleviation? What are you doing about youth empowerment? What are you doing about the less privileged? What is the relevance of your ministry to our national problems? What is the relevance of your ministry to your immediate community? How do you relate to gentlemen of the media? How do you relate to members of the security agencies?

Sounds like a political wrap up I dare say but these are the new metrics of effective ministry in Nigeria. And they’re the new agenda for the Church. A church must be relevant to its social context.

Before now it was enough for the pastor to do “the work of the ministry” – essentially the saving of souls and material ministration to the poor. The ministerial agenda was ministry to the poor in spirit and ministry to the wretched of the earth. Not anymore. Under the new dispensation more is required of the Church.

Accountability is required for example. Pastors are no longer just accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ; they are accountable to society as well. CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives are now demanded of churches, much like of corporations. The Church finds this strange because the entire work of the Church is CSR in the first place. But society demands a new categorization. If you want personal moral and political authority you must have social moral authority, the world is saying. This is a new paradigm though it’s not exactly new because the Lord Jesus required it of us in several teachings and parables. Society is reading scriptures to us. The Lord is using society to expand the vista of the Church in Nigeria. The new evangelism is neighbourliness.

All these change the communication imperatives of the modern church. Your good works must now be visible to all men that they may glorify your father in Heaven. In the alternative you run the risk of social opprobrium.

We may need to take another look at the buttons on our website. Our communication must be refocused to highlight good works. In this third economic dispensation predicted in the 1st chapter of the Book of Genesis, the old church communication mentality cannot work. There must be fundamental restructuring.

I have said to ministers I am personally acquainted with, that a modern ministry needs three critical departments, in addition to the traditional departments. You need legal, accounting and public relations. These can be outsourced though some internal structure is required. They are as important as the deliverance department, the children’s church and the evangelism department because they protect the work of the ministry.

Ministers are sometimes averse to the setting up of a public relations department because of fear of guilt of self-promotion. But the preaching of the gospel is the ultimate public relations, as is all the work of benevolence and the ministering to the poor. Motive must determine propriety.

We must not forget that we face an adversary whose official title reflects an avowed mission: Accuser of the Brethren. The media is understandably a weapon of choice in the hand of Satan. It’s a very effective tool of accusation. The media must become a weapon in the hands of the Church. Without public relations management you are defenseless against crass accusation. Good media management preempts distractions.

There are seven brands to manage in a modern ministry:

  1. The corporate brand – what the church stands for, what she’s known for
  2. The product brand – the Gospel
  3. The people brand – church workers & members
  4. The community brand – missions and good works
  5. The communication brand – letterheads, publications, adverts, signboards, buildings, broadcasts, podcasts…
  6. The CEO brand i.e. the person of the Minister
  7. The operational brand i.e. structure, processes, asset ownership and regulatory issues

The Pentecostal model of the pastor as personality brand raises a number of issues:

Who defends the pastor in the media? (A pastor can’t go out and defend himself. He risks reinforcing the negative if he lacks PR skills).

What structures exist to protect the reputation of a pastor and his ministry?

Who monitors what is being said about a minister and his ministry?

Who responds?

To those who are public relations averse, who think it’s anti Spirit, please note that if you are on radio, television, or you write columns in newspapers; if you publish a ministry magazine or burn CDs of your messages for public consumption, you are already in public relations territory. If you are successful, you are already in the public relations territory. If you have a big church, you are already in public relations territory, and if you have a beautiful spouse you are already in public relations territory.

The traditional media unit of the church is mainly focused on the recording of messages and broadcasting of sermons. With the emergence of social media as fifth media, such a unit must be expanded to include social media officers.

Clearly the traditional media unit of a church cannot meet the challenges of the modern world. A sophisticated world requires a sophisticated response. That’s the principle established by God when he gave Apostle Paul a new blueprint of the administrative organogram of the church. It was radically different from what Apostle Peter or anyone for that matter envisaged in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. A less robust framework would not have worked.

The modern world demands a rethink of the relationship of the Church with the world. Will you and your ministry rise up to the challenge? That is the big question.

Thank you and God bless!


Delivered at the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) 2013 Biennial Conference, Uyo, Akwa Ibom
Friday, February 8, 2013

© Leke Alder |